Microsoft, Google spar in former exec case

Attorneys for Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. faced off in court on Tuesday over whether an executive familiar with the world's largest software maker's plans in China could begin working for the search engine leader.

Microsoft is asking King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez for a preliminary injunction to stop former vice president Kai-Fu Lee from working for Google ahead of a trial scheduled for January 2006.

Microsoft attorney Jeffrey Johnson argued in court that Lee, who built Microsoft's Beijing research and development center, is violating a non-compete contract that he signed with Microsoft because he has intimate knowledge of Microsoft's operations in China, its competitive strategy against Google and recruiting efforts.

"Dr. Lee should live up to his promise," said Johnson, reports Reuters.

According to Washington Post, Google spokesman Steve Langdon said he did not know the context or date of Gates' comments, and did not know if he would be able to obtain that information. He said neither Lee nor Lee's attorney was immediately available to comment following the proceedings.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said she could not immediately comment on the alleged conversation between Gates and Lee.

In his testimony, Lee also complained that Microsoft had more than 20 business groups operating virtually autonomously in China, with little cohesion.

Among other problems, Lee said, was a commitment Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer made in 2002 to outsource $100 million in work to China. Within the last year, after it had become clear that Microsoft wasn't fulfilling this promise, Lee said, he was put in charge of outsourcing jobs to China.

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